Folk Culture in Amsterdam - The Amsterdam Culture of the People

What's popular (folk) culture in Amsterdam like? Our other page about Amsterdam culture deals with high brow culture: museums, the arts, theatres etc. But an ordinary authentic Amsterdammer wouldn't be caught dead in an Amsterdam theatre hall or history museum in Amsterdam. Find out about the cultural intake of Real Amsterdammers below.

Original Amsterdammers

Due to its two large universities, vibrant economy and status as the Netherlands' leading cultural city, the Amsterdam population is ever changing. Most inhabitants in Amsterdam weren't born here.

That said, there is a small and very vocal group of 'authentic Amsterdammers'. Their center is in the Jordaan area where several generations of the same families live in the same street. Every Dutchman recognizes them the moment they open their mouths through their accent, hard sizzling S and slang words. More on our page about Amsterdam people.

Brown Cafe Culture in Amsterdam

Amsterdam brown cafe Anno 1890

Amsterdam brown cafe Anno 1890

Such Original Amsterdammers spend their Saturday evenings in the brown cafes in the Jordaan and elsewhere. The 'brown' refers to many decades of cigarette smoke and the dark wooden interior.

Here they drink Heineken beer and eat bitterballen (fried meat balls) and loudly sing along with the levensliederen ('songs of life') of André Hazes, Peter Beense or Danny de Munck. Several now famous artists from Amsterdam had their first gigs in their father's brown cafe, the birth places of folk culture in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam 'Songs of Life'

Modern Amsterdam 'songs of life' (OK, a lousy translation) are somewhat similar to German schlagers, but immediately recognized by their heavy vibrato. They are sentimental, and often loaded with raw emotion. Topics are the darker sides of life: divorce, alcohol and lonely Christmas days. The king of the modern Amsterdam folk song has no doubt been André Hazes. When he died in 2004, his memorial service in a huge Amsterdam soccer stadium was attended by 50,000 people, and broadcast live on national television.

Most Amsterdam folk singers seem to have two features in common. First, they either run their own brown cafe (where they perform regularly) or their father does - and secondly, they are at 75-150 pounds overweight.

Older typical Amsterdam songs of Johnny Jordaan, Manke Nelis and Tante Leen are more mellow and simple, accompanied by the accordion and played on street organs. While these songs differ considerably from the modern Amsterdam folk song, both are very Amsterdamish, and every Dutchman knows the words. They are key pieces of everyday culture in Amsterdam.

Andre Hazes, "Zij gelooft in mij" Tante Leen, "Aan de Amsterdamse grachten"

Live Songs of Life

So, where to experience all of this live? Cafe Bolle Jan ('Fat John', Korte Reguliersdwarsstraat 3) has regular live performances by original Amsterdam artists. The late Jan, by the way, is the father of nationally known Amsterdam singer René Froger. Amsterdam folk singer (and once 350-pound heavy weight) Peter Beense has his own cafe named after himself at Korte Reguliers Dwarsstraat 10.

Furthermore, Cafe Anno 1890 (Amstelveenseweg 1124, outside the center in the southern part of the city) also has regular live acts, and it's been voted best Amsterdam café for years in a row. And Cafe Nol (Westerstraat 109) is one of those brown cafes where Amsterdammers may either look you away or offer you a beer and start singing.

Amsterdam Humour

For the rest, you'll recognize real Amsterdammers by their big (but humorous) mouths, and dry, quick wit with a teeny-weeny coarse undertone ("What if? If me uncle had tits, she would be me aunt!"). But Amsterdam humour is never mean-spirited.

In earlier times, Amsterdam had a large Jewish community (over 10% of the population). Amsterdam's nickname is still Mokum ("city" in Yiddish). From this background came the typical Amsterdam jokes about Sam and Moos, and his wife Saar.

Moos comes home, very happy, and exclaims to his wife Saar: "I won the lottery, pack your suitcase!" Says Saar, "What a great surprise! Should I pack summer or winter clothes?" Says Moos, "I don't care, as long as you're leaving!"

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